It seems very fitting that this morning we are waking up to rain. Rain that is leaving the morning grey and dark.
Today marks the beginning of the Season of Advent. The season of darkness and light, of prayer and reflection. The season of hope and redemption.
A reminder from God that no matter what darkess we face, he will always return us to the light.
Advent isn’t a celebration. Rather it is a journey much like life. It is a pause from the busyness of life to reflect and take stock of where we are at spiritually and emotionally. It is being attentive and watching and waiting on God and this wondrous mystery of redemption. God’s promise fulfulled.
Advent gives us a space for acknowleging our disappointments, failures, and hurts. It gives us space for grief and lament with the promise of hope. It gives us space to refresh and recharge our relationships with ourselves, those around us, and most importantly, with God.
Advent allows us to be vulnerable with ourselves and each other.
It is as if the heavenly Father is saying to each of us, “Come, tell me all about it. Let me help you. I love you.” An ever present help in our struggles:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
-Isaiah 43:1-3 (NRSV)
Two years ago I marked the start of advent with this post with my reflections on the grief and darkness I was feeling at that time. This year I find that I am again entering into the season of advent with grief, but of a different nature. This is grief for my sense of self and self worth that I have realized was lost over the years. I am trying to find that girl again, and be the woman God created me to be.
Maybe there is something in turning 40 (which I did last year) that makes you stop and reflect on where you are and where you have been and wonder where you are going next. A kind of life Advent season. What were my dreams then? What are they now? And the realization that regardless of dreams, life just happens.
And isn’t this exactly what happened to Mary, the mother of Jesus, but on a far greater scale?
Mary was a normal teenager. She was engaged to be married to a fine upstanding man of the community. Did she dream about the life she would lead with him? How many babies they would have? How she would decorate their home?
I am sure that in her plans and dreams she never imagined that she would be pregnant out of wedlock or fleeing for her life with her baby for safety in Egypt. Nor would she have ever imagined seeing her son disown his family (Mark 3:31-35) making the family Passover celebrations ackward going forward. But then again, as an unwed mother, Mary herself probably made family celebrations a little ackward for a while.
And even though she lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans, she would never have thought her son would be one of the ones who would be hung from a cross and that she would be standing there in shock watching, greiving, and lamenting for her son.
But Mary was faithful and when the Angel Gabriel asked her if she would be the mother of God, she willingly said yes. She willingly abandoned her dreams of what she thought her life would be and became the willing servant of God. By being a faithful light in the darkness of ancient Palestine, Mary brought THE LIGHT into the world.
Many of us are lost, but we are not alone in the darkness.
We are seeking, and we will be found if we want to be. Work through the pain and grief. Lament for the losses you have experienced. And remember that no matter the darkess, the light always comes. Have faith and know that you are God’s beloved.
Whether you are a lone soul full of faith or looking for a faith community or are part of a faith community, let us all be light together this Advent season. Let this light shine out into the darkess of the world around us.
Whether this year finds you grieving or rejoicing or somewhere in between, this space of Advent is for you.
Arise, your light has come!
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Leaves are falling. Christmas is just around the corner and Advent starts this Sunday. In two days it will be Thanksgiving Day.
And I find myself feeling pensive.
This year has brought about many changes in my life.
A realization that I have limitations and if I don’t pay attention to my body and take care of it then it won’t function properly.
A realization that ministry isn’t supposed to be overwhelming and stressful to the point of affecting my physical condition.
A realization that I have trauma and loss in my past that I have never taken the proper time to grieve. As a result, I am discovering that I have stuffed so much pain down deep inside of myself because my defenses and sense of self preservation needed to just keep moving forward and holding the shattered pieced together. I have lost the ability to be intune with my body and how it is feeling.
And so I have made changes.
I pay attention to what time I go to bed, I eat food that will nourish me but not leave me feeling deprived, sick, or unsatisfied, and I am finding ways to rest and recharge on my days off from work.
I have left the congregation that I was a part of for several years.
In some ways it feels like I went through a divorce from my church due to irreconcilable differences (it’s still there but we aren’t simpatico anymore). In others ways it feels like I am grieving the loss of a dear friend as I have parted ways with the community of that church (but I can never go back in the same capacity because the joy, encouragement, and spiritual growth I found there has ended). I mourn for those people and the good times that were shared there and the lessons that were learned there.
But there is also a sense of peace, that it was the right time and the right thing to do at this point in my journey for my overall health.
I am taking some time to decompress and assess where I am at spiritually and plan to start seeking a new church home soon. Along the way I have met up with some wonderful spiritual guides that have seemed uniquely qualified to minister to me during this transitional time. The presence of the hand of Providence continuing in my life is a deep comfort.
I am getting counseling and life coaching. Looking back to unpack the stuffed down pain and process and deal with it while at the same time finding hope and charting my future courses. And all the while accepting who I am and where I am at on my journey right now. Taking the time to enjoy life in all of its imperfections and embracing myself as I rediscover who I am and have been all along.
Boundaries are important.
Balance is vital.
This pensiveness and these reflections started today when I ran across Micah 6:8 in my readings today:
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
And now I am wondering, have I overcomplicated what God’s call on my life is by scurrying around trying to desperately find my purpose and answer my call in life?
These verses are few, but how very full and life giving they are! They are the blueprint for a life well lived. The blueprint Jesus himself used in his life that should be the example we seek to follow above all others.
Recently a dear cousin of mine pointed out to me that when he needed to, Jesus stepped away. He stepped away to rest, recharge, pray, and heal himself. She also pointed out that if it was okay for him to do this when he needed to, it is absolutely okay for us to do so when needed as well.
So if you ask me where I am at on my journey, I will tell you that I am currently resting and healing. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
If you stop by my house on Thanksgiving or any given weekend you will find me preparing homemade, nutritious meals for my family – comfort cooking at its finest that is helping me to restore my sanity. You will also find the tall stack of cozy mystery stories I have rediscovered that are helping me find rest.
Eventually I will find a new church home to be in community with. We aren’t meant to always walk this journey alone. In the meantime, I will follow Micah’s instructions and do justly, love mercy, and continue to always walk with God.
Will I ever have the opportunity to teach or preach again? I don’t know…but I hope so.
I am, and always will be, a faithful seeker and disciple of Jesus. Right now I am faithfully following him and his example to rest.
Trusting that in his own good timing, God and his loving kindness will lead me where I am meant to be next.
“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
The authorship of this quote is questionable. It has been attributed to each of the Theresa/Teresa trio of saints – Theresa of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta – but many suspect it in fact wasn’t written by any of them and was actually written by persons unknown in the 1970’s.
Regardless of who wrote it, these beautiful words fill me with hope and courage to spread my wings and soar! It also has me thinking about who I am in God and am I using the gifts I been given to live out God’s call in my life? I mean, really truly use them to the best of my abilities?
Do I own who I am as God’s Beloved?
One of the recurring themes resonating with me in a lot of what I have been reading lately is that I am called by God. As such I should live out HIS calling for my life, not what other PEOPLE’s expectations say I should be (based on societal or cultural norms). I don’t and shouldn’t be hiding my light under a bucket, so to speak, in order to appease the comfort of others.
I think this is something that I truly struggle with. It’s like I’ve been conditioned to champion those around me without really realizing what my own worth is or that I have something valuable to contribute. Maybe all the comments over the years about not having a bachelor’s degree have really left me thinking of my talents as not enough.
Sometimes my gender has caused comments to be made about what I should or shouldn’t be doing, or where I “fit” into things. These have also left a mark on me because I think a lot of times it is in our female nature to want to nurture and promote others around us, even at the expense of ourselves.
But in the wake of realizing, yet again, I am more than just what a piece of paper or my peers might say about me, I am going to now name what I am as a reminder to myself that God has been very gracious to me and has blessed me with many gifts. Own who I am as God’s beloved, so to speak, in no particular order:
I am intelligent and actually quite educated. Although the only degree I have says “Associate’s” I have an incredibly curious nature that has lead me to serious study of many different things as well as I have earned almost three quarters of a Bachelor’s degree in Business(Accounting).
I am a disciple – I am hungry for God and have a lifelong thirst to seek his ways to become more like Jesus in my daily life. The C.S. Lewis Institute was, and continues to be a great guide in helping seek paths of continued growth in my spiritual life as I engage with Scripture and draw ever closer in relationship with God the Father.
I am a leader – both at work and at church, I have been blessed to serve as a leader in many different ways. There is a quote that hangs in my office by Sheryl Sandberg that says, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” I agree with that whole heartedly and try to live that out with my staff.
I am kind hearted – Too much so at times. I go out of my way to try to help others. I can’t stand to see the commercials on tv that have starving children or caged, sad animals. I am a people pleaser with a servants heart.
I am an accountant – no degree, but with seventeen years of full time experience in this field, it is safe to say that I am accomplished and competent in this area.
I am a singer – I LOVE to sing. It can be in the shower, around the house, or in the car. I also sing with our church’s praise team. In high school I was in choir, musicals, and sang the National Anthem at some of the football games.
I am a writer – I have written for this blog, and I have written a few sermons. I love expressing my thoughts on paper and wish I had the time to do that more often. While I don’t have a following, my pieces have been picked up by a few outlets over the years. I would love to someday write a book, if I could just figure out what I need to be writing about!
I am a student of theology – born and raised Catholic, but converted as an adult to Mennonite, I love studying the bible, biblical events, historical church history, specific denominational beliefs, the wider church as a whole and the early church. All of it. I can’t get enough of it. I love to see how God weaves things together and specifically how women have fit into his plans.
I am creative – well there are the whole singing and writing things, but I also love to knit, crochet, do needlepoint, and pretend that someday I will scrapbook. When my son was younger I enjoyed making his birthday cakes and valentine’s day boxes.
I am a teacher– Both at work and at times at church. I love digging into material and then helping others to learn it as well. I have never been the type to hoard information to myself. I love sharing!
I have never been comfortable talking about myself in these kinds of terms and often downplay myself or my different roles. So this is reaffirming to myself that I am already ENOUGH exactly as I am if I take the time to remember this.
There isn’t anything that I need to prove, nothing that I need to earn before I can be taken seriously. This also isn’t all that I am. God has blessed each of us in more ways than we can ever list completely.
We all have our labels that we go through life with. I am a wife, a mother, an accounting manager, a praise team leader, etc. However, I am so much more than these labels.
I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are fair, and that in faithfulness You have disciplined me.
O may Your lovingkindness and graciousness comfort me, according to Your word (promise) to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, For Your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:75-77, AMP)
All of these emotions are running through my mind. I keep waiting for these feelings to pass, but they continue to be there. I gravitate towards the psalms for comfort, but still these feelings persist. Feelings of not being capable or competent enough, as if what I have to contribute isn’t valuable. At the same time, I know that I AM capable and competent, which leads to emotions of frustration and anger that my comments or contributions are at the least carelessly disregarded and at the worst blatantly disrespected.
I don’t take my words in important conversations lightly. If I am giving an opinion or observation in a group conversation it has been carefully and thoughtfully done. These opinions and observations have many years of experiences and studies shaping them. I don’t throw out random comments, especially when they contain concerns for the needs of others, without having put a lot of time, thought, and/or conversations with other peers into them.
So why do I feel like I am oftentimes chastised or belittled for not being compassionate enough, empathetic enough, positive enough, spiritual enough or educated enough to make these contributions to the conversations?
How do I speak positive affirmations into a conversation while also speaking my truth when necessary? My life hasn’t been pretty (who’s has been?) and I have dealt with a lot of heavy things throughout it. Sometimes that means my experiences may color my perception and views differently. Just because someone else’s experiences have been different doesn’t give them the right to disregard how my opinions or views have been formed.
Just to clarify, I don’t believe that I have the only valid and/or right opinions or observations, but at least engage with me respectfully when I offer them. It isn’t even about right and wrong, but about allowing me to share my thoughts based on my perceptions, and then discuss with me in a conversation about where our views may differ in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling discounted, belittled, or in the wrong. This is where learning and growth can occur. I am a curious person and eager to learn new things, thoughts, and perspectives.
At the same time, I am feeling weighed down by exhaustion and fatigue.
Perhaps it is the stress from an overly busy time in my life with work, church, and family responsibilities. Or it could be the ups and downs and guilt that comes along with parenting. Most likely, however, it is the fact that I am getting older and starting to see life in a new way. There is a lacking of willingness to continue on down the old familiar paths just because I have always trod along them for so much of my adult life. My perceptions are changing, my energy levels are changing, what’s important to me in my life is changing, and my self-worth is changing.
No longer do I feel I should hold back in conversations because those around me are older and more experienced. It is time for me to move into that space of being one of the older persons with valuable life experiences and own it along with my story and all the baggage that comes with it.
It is during these trials in my life that I realize how much I need to depend on strength and direction from God. At the end of the day, the only one that I need to be accountable to is God. Am I loving as he would have me love? Am I trying to live out his will for my life? If I can answer yes to these questions then I can be content and rest in the arms of our heavenly Father knowing that he will use all of the experiences in my life for good.
This does not give me permission to stay mired down in places of discouragement. Moving into this next phase of my life is going to require me to evaluate the things I do and the ways that I use my time.
If it is something that is life-sustaining or life-giving it stays, if it is something that is no longer supplying a need or bringing me peace, joy, or contentment then it may need to be changed or left behind completely. Miring myself down in the things that bring constant frustration distracts me from the important things in my life and drains the time and energy that could otherwise be used for the good things that do fulfill God’s purpose and will for my life.
I think that I have spent much of my adult life wondering what God is calling me to be. Now I am realizing that I already am what he is calling me to be – and that is His child. I don’t know if I am discovering this because I am now thirty-ten and re-evaluating where I am at in life or if it is just a lesson that I am finally getting around to learning. God has made me for good, he has a plan for me, and wants me to thrive. If something isn’t bringing me calm, joy, peace and a sense of purpose or accomplishment, then perhaps it is time to move on.
It doesn’t change who I am, as my identity isn’t what I do, but it is in Jesus Christ that my identity is found. Remembering this will hopefully help me to work through these emotions and feelings, make the changes that need to be made, and keep leaning on the courage, strength, and love that God equips each one of us with.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. (2 Timothy 1:7, AMP)
She is mentioned three times in the New Testament, however, we know her best from her story which is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua. If you aren’t familiar with the story of the prostitute from Jericho you can find it in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6.
To the Israelites, everything about her is undesirable. First and foremost, she is a woman living during a time of patriarchy. Secondly, she is a Canaanite – a foreigner – one of the people living in the Promised Land that the Israelites have been told must be removed in order to take possession of the land. Thirdly, her profession is that of a prostitute making her as immoral as they come.
But who is Rahab the woman, and what is she like? She isn’t a made up character in a story book, but a real living, breathing woman. Rahab is an outsider, or foreigner, living inside the Promised Land. We first meet her when two Israelite spies – insiders living outside the Promised Land – show up at her house. The irony of this is that Rahab is also most likely also an outsider among her own people due to her “chosen” profession. Not that she willingly chose to be a prostitute. This is something women fall into as a result of having absolutely no other way of supporting herself.
Although we read about the weaknesses and brokenness of Rahab based on her career, which the writers of both and Old and New Testament just can’t let her overcome, we can discover a lot of about Rahab’s character and strengths. In the pages of the book of Joshua we can also see the kind of person she is.
We know that she is intelligent, quick-witted, and resourceful. She is able to think on her feet. She sees the arrival of the spies for the opportunity that it is, and she is quick to take them in. She is wise and perceptive. Rahab realized that God is giving her a chance at salvation with the arrival of the two Israelite spies on her doorstep.
At the same time, Rahab is also able to quickly dismiss the king’s men. She doesn’t hesitate to admit that she did indeed have company that day. She basically on the spot comes up with a story and says more or les, “Sure, the men you seek WERE here, but I had no clue they were from THOSE people. And anyways, they are gone now. They finished their business with me and took off to make it outside of the gated to be on their way before the gates were closed for the night. But you look like strong, smart men! If you hurry you will surely still be able to track them and catch them!”
The very fact that she took the spies in shows that Rahab is hospitable. At her own peril, safety and shelter are offered to the spies. As her guests, she knows that she is honor bound to care for them. She protects them from being discovered by the king’s men – something the spies are unable to do on their own – despite the nasty consequences that she and her entire family can suffer from should the spies be discovered. Rahab has the abilities to keep them safe and knows just where to hide these men. You see, Rahab doesn’t just entertain customers, she also is very industrious and spends time making linen. She has wet, soggy, smelly flax drying out on her roof for her next batch of linen on the very day these two bumbling spies show up on her doorstep. She uses this big smelly drying pile of yuck to conceal the spies.
Once the king’s men are gone and is it safe to go back upstairs, we discover that Rahab is a skilled negotiator. She goes in with a quid pro quo approach. I have dealt kindly with you, now you need to promise to deal kindly with me. And what can the spies do? They know they are still neatly caught. They can either agree and negotiate with Rahab, or refuse and risk having her turn them over to the king. We also discover during these negotiations that Rahab has a great love for others and she puts her love of others before love of self. Her request for salvation isn’t just for herself. She ensured that her entire family will be spared and kept safe from the destruction that will inevitably come.
But most importantly, Rahab is a woman of incredibly strong faith. Not just any faith either. She makes a confession of faith in the one true God of Israel , the God of in heaven above and on earth below. A statement that is made by only two other people in the Old Testament – Moses and Solomon.
Can you imagine how shocked the spies must have been by this Canaanite woman who is standing before them protecting them while at the same time declaring and confessing that she believes in their God? And what a confession! It is perfect!
“Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, is familiar with the Israelite theological language as though she has graduated from an Israelite religious academy…she presents herself as fully and comfortably conversant with information that would typically characterize an Israelite insider completely knowledgeable about Israel’s religious patterns…In fact, Rahab’s confession is arguably the best one in the entire Book of Joshua, even better than anything offered by the great leader himself, Joshua.”
Now how on earth would a pagan woman, who is lowly and poor with a horrible job, not only learn about the God of Israel, but also come to such an absolute and faith in him as her God as well? Divine revelation is the answer.
All of the Canaanite people in Jericho heard about the miracles the God of Israel had done and continued to do. They knew about the other victories the Israelites had won battles over other powerful kings on their way to Jericho. But only one Canaanite, Rahab, heard these stories and realized the strength that the won these battles came from the God of Israel, and she somehow sought to encounter and know him for herself. God had a divine plan and purpose for Rahab just like he does for each of us. He met Rahab where she was in her current circumstances and accepted her belief in him. And just like Rahab, no matter what our circumstances our, we to can have faith and trust in God to take us forward to our salvation.
And finally, we know that Rahab was a woman of great courage. Can you imagine the nerves of steel it took for this woman to hide spies on her roof and then lie to the soldiers literally standing on her doorstep? She took a ginormous leap of faith and courageously grasped on to the situation unfolding under and on her roof to secure salvation for herself and her entire family in exchange for her protection of the spies.
Then she has to wait, not knowing what is to come next or when whatever it is will come. She really had no idea if the spies will keep their word once the battle has begun. All that she has to comfort herself with is her faith in the God of Israel. Can you imagine the currents of terror that envelop the city of Jericho as the Israeli army arrives? The seven torturous days as the army marches around the city leaving the inhabitants inside shaking with fear wondering what will come next. And then finally, the courage it takes to stay inside her house in the walls of Jericho as the great stone walls all around Rahab’s house come tumbling down?
Joshua gave the people of Israel God’s message to them in verse 1:9 to be strong and courageous. Rahab, who hadn’t even been present to hear Joshua deliver this message, takes it to a whole now level. Rahab shows us that absolute faith gives us the courage and strength we need to stand against anything.
Today we have been looking at a familiar story. Before our time together today, have you ever given any thought to why Rahab the prostitute was given such a prominent place in this story? A woman living in poor conditions trapped in an immoral job and a foreigner at that. Rahab’s story shows us that sometimes we are being prepared for a part in the story and really have no idea what it is or when we will need to use it. This past month I have spent a lot of time with Rahab and her story and feel like I have gotten to know Rahab as a person. In doing so I have learned these two things as my takeaways, one is an encouragement and the other is a caution:
No matter how marginalized you are, you have a place in the Kingdom, but it doesn’t always come easy. You have to be ready and willing to move when God tells you it’s time to move. Have faith and be courageous. No matter how bleak your current situation, you can have hope. God won’t leave you where he found you. No matter your circumstances, God will prepare you for whatever tasks he has for you. Sometimes he is preparing you for a role that you would never dream you would have in the Kingdom. Rahab certainly didn’t know as she was learning who God was that she was going to play a prominent role in the Israelites taking of Jericho.
We can be too quick to judge a book by its cover. Prior to taking a closer look at Rahab, I never realized that she had such a profound and deeply rooted faith in the God of Israel. I guess that I just assumed that since she was a prostitute that she was a sinful person who just happened to get the right opportunity to ensure she survived the siege of Jericho. I never looked beyond her title of prostitute to actually meet the woman of faith we have uncovered here today. We all have great potential in the Kingdom of God.
Going forward, I hope that when you hear the name Rahab, you aren’t so distracted by the title of prostitute that always seems to accompany it. Instead my hope is for you to recall of a faithful woman filled with courage and strength who rose above her circumstances and found redemption and her place among God’s chosen people as well as a branch on the family tree of Jesus.
Each of us has at least one Rahab moment in our lives. A time when we have to choose to believe and trust in God and the promises he has made us despite our circumstances.
My most recent Rahab moment came this past spring when my husband was suddenly incredibly sick, needing emergency surgery to clean out an infection that had found its way into his knee. This resulted in him having to be off of work for a month. Perhaps in the greater scheme of problems in the world this wasn’t so big, but for me it was huge and seemed to be a recall of our financial hardships earlier in life. In my past I would have been in complete despair and afraid that we would find ourselves without a home again. However, throughout the entire month I chose to lean into God and trust in him and I felt a deep sense of peace knowing that God would supply all our needs.
This is just one of the Rahab moments in my life, what are some of yours?